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Art Sale for the Baqa Center

T

HE Baqa Center in Jaffa, a project of Hanitzotz Publishing House, has been operating for nine years. On Christmas Day 2004 it hosted one of those rare events that joins the global north with the global south, here epitomized as Tel Aviv and Jaffa. The event was a public art sale to benefit the Center. It took place under the title, "An Alternative Society is Possible!"

Galia Yahav, an artist who writes for the Tel Aviv paper Time Out, invited her readers thus: "An event for everyone who believes in solidarity and universal equality, or who just wants to see what the people who believe in those things look like."

The Baqa Center is a lively place by day, a focus of activities for children from Jaffa's poorer neighborhoods. In the evenings it metamorphoses into Bamat Etgar, offering cultural and political events to adults.

For five sessions the Baqa art group met to prepare a mosaic for the Center's outer wall. Its completion was timed to coincide with the opening of the art exhibit. Nineteen children took part, aged 10-12. Their first step was to examine slides showing mosaics from around the world. Through guided imagining, each then focused on the neighborhood: What does it include? What do I see in my mind's eye? The idea was to sharpen the children's attention for the things they pass in walking between the Center and their homes. In one of the meetings they went for a tour of the neighborhood, gathering materials: pieces of plastic, stones, bottle caps, fragments of toys, and whatever seemed right. Then they set to work. "end"

Eighty artists contributed works for the benefit sale. Most of them know the Baqa Center. Some took part in a similar sale four years ago, from which the Center collected $20,000. This money enabled the move to its present spacious quarters.

As of this writing (December 28), sales from the current exhibit total $18,000, and it isn't over. Among the higher prices, David Reeb's contribution went for $2000, Yaakov Mishori's for $2000, Michal Ne'eman's for $1000, Ibrahim Nubani for $1800, Sigalit Landau's for $1200. Some of the works may be viewed at www.hanitzotz.com/exhibition. Not all the offerings were that expensive. Many were sold at prices between $60 and $250.

A painting by Alina Spechilov drew several bids. Spechilov came to the Center a few days before the exhibit in order to gain a feel for the place and to see what sort of work would suit it. She selected easily accessible materials like those the children at the Center use: ordinary wall paint and brown wrapping paper. We asked why she'd chosen to show a wolf. She answered, "I had an intuition that this connects with Jaffa, a city with a lot of anger, hostility and frustration."

Naomi Zucker contributed a painting of a naked lady sitting and filming the viewer through a video camera. This is part of a project she is doing on female nudity. Zucker saw the e-mail invitation to the exhibit, phoned and brought her work. As to why she wanted to take part, she seemed surprised that we would ask. "I'm studying Arabic. I think we all need to study Arabic." This is "code" in Israel, and Zucker went on to explain: "I believe that people need to be conscious of the surroundings in which they live, and it seems to me that this place is part of that."

And what are these surroundings? Ra'afat Khattab, who first came to the Center to learn drawing at the age of 18, stayed on for five years as a volunteer. Today he is its Coordinator for Educational Activities. This is what he said at the exhibit during a short break for speeches:

"The people of Jaffa suffer under extreme poverty, drugs and crime. It is a city of contradictions. Next to the squalor and neglect rise huge, luxurious apartment buildings, which only deepen the frustration of the have-nots. There are 21,000 Arabs living in Jaffa, and before my eyes it is gradually turning into one big refugee camp.

"As for me, it all started five years ago. I was looking for a framework in which to fulfill my artistic ambition. But I got much more than that here. I began to understand where I am living. I developed a social perspective and formed a political position. I got tools for coping with the reality I live in, and I came to see that art isn't just paintings in a museum or gallery. It's also to be found among the trash and garbage in the streets of Jaffa. Thanks to my work with the children, I returned to my childhood, wandering the neighborhoods and alleys, a city I'd grown up in for 18 years without knowing what was happening in it. Along with my voluntary work, I also developed artistically and got accepted to the School of Arts at Beit Berl College, where I'm to finish this year."

Ra'afat made his first sale at the exhibit. "end"

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